Our vision for gender equality
I am fortunate to hold not one, but two jobs in Government, as in addition to being the Secretary of State for Education, I am also Minister for Women and Equalities.
We’ve just returned from the Conservative Party Conference. This time last year, we were bracing ourselves for the election and making our pitch as to what we as Conservatives had to offer women – namely security, stability and fairness. Women across Britain backed that vision, and a year on, and an election victory later, I’m excited about all we can achieve over the next five years.
Speaking to delegates on Wednesday, the Prime Minister could not have been more clear that delivering real equality is a priority for this Government. In his words “you can’t have true opportunity without real equality.” I couldn’t agree more and opportunity and meritocracy are at the heart of this government’s approach to women.
I don’t believe women have to be segregated to be equal. Yes, we care about things like childcare, and so too should men, but we also care about house prices, transport and our country’s role in the world.
Before looking to the future, it’s worth considering our record – after all, actions speak louder than words and together we have achieved a lot:
- There are more women employed in the UK than ever before, with 14.5 million women in employment.
- We have the highest number of women-led businesses in history and we’ve been rated the best place in Europe for women starting a business.
- We have more women on FTSE Boards than ever, and no more all-male boards, down from 25 in 2009.
- We’re raising the national living wage, and increasing the income tax allowance – with women making up 60% of those benefitting from both measures. Under the last parliament, 2.1 million women were taken out of income tax altogether.
- We’re giving working parents 30 hours of free childcare, and extending flexible working and shared parental leave. So that more women, and men, can balance having a family with having a career where they choose to.
- We’ve criminalised forced marriage, introduced FGM protection orders and brought in Clare’s Law. We’ve also invested in refuge provision and set up a dedicated revenge porn helpline. Because all women deserve to feel safe and free from fear.
Tackling the gender pay gap for good
Over the next five years, we’ve set ourselves the challenge of doing more to tackle the gender pay gap.
Despite the gap being at its lowest ever level, we believe that any gap is too big and ultimately bad for society.
But there’s still too much confusion about what the ‘gender pay gap’ actually means. Many conflate it with equal pay, including those who should know better. The former measures the difference between men and women’s average salaries, whereas equal pay is about paying men and women the same amount for the same job – not doing so has been illegal for forty years.
Tackling the gender pay gap has no quick fix, and in reality the causes are complex. They include issues such as the concentration of women in lower paid occupations, the levels of seniority they progress to and the impact of childcare. To close the gender pay gap will therefore require action on a range of fronts at every stage in women’s lives.
The first step is boosting transparency, because we know that what gets measured gets done. That’s why our Manifesto made a commitment to require companies with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap. We’ve already set about delivering on this pledge with a consultation launched on this within 100 days of being elected.
At the same time we’re carrying out work to tackle those deep rooted causes of the gap – supporting women throughout the pipeline, helping parents with childcare and raising girls’ aspirations and encouraging them to consider careers in sectors traditionally dominated by men.
Inspiring the next generation
In this role I have met inspiring role models like Malala Yousafazi and Michelle Obama. But I also meet inspirational women every day, up and down the country – who are breaking the glass ceiling in their own way. They are our teachers, doctors, mothers, sisters and friends. Their voices are just as important in this fight. Because when I talk about equality, I mean equality for girls and women everywhere.
Because no career, promotion or aspiration should ever be off limits because of someone’s gender, race or background.
Gender equality isn’t just good for women and it isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s an issue for us all. Because as a country we cannot afford to waste the talents of a single person, let alone half the population.
And if we’re going to achieve genuine, lasting change then we all should shout this message from the rooftops, every chance we get.
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